Sunday, 28 August 2016

Adventures in GIMP

In the last year and a half, a sequence of developments has taken place which have convinced me that, when next the stars are right, I need to buy a half-way decent camera. Upgrading to a new smart phone has shown me the joys of photography but also the limitations of field and focus a phone camera is able to provide. I have also moved to London, where curiosities of art and artifice abound. But most of all, I have discovered the scope of potential photographic modification through Photoshop's clunky yet reliable, open-source cousin: GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).

Churches outside of time
A chance discovery of a 1950s church guide book in my then local branch of Oxfam inspired me to try my hand at digital collage art. My original intention had been to digitally extract the church, and then find a suitably oblique, psychedelic texture image to serve as the background. With a reasonable grounding in MS Paint hacks (the legacy of several summers spent living as a hermit), I set about reducing the image to its most basic monochrome state. However, my experiments with detergent and cooking oil proved less than satisfactory, until I discovered the Curve function, located under the Colours tab, and applied them to the image. This allows the user to not only manipulate the colour palette, but to do so in a methodical fashion corresponding to the existing light and hue data present in the image.

The resulting image eventually became the place of dubious worship I dubbed Ghastwych Abbey, the abode of the cursed Saint Maldora in a later story for Project Praeterlimina (later made into a zine with much more impressive original art by Chris Richford).

Viscous emanations from the un-created realm

Since this issue was completed, I've produced a number of small pieces to accompany different stories for the zine, using the similarly rudimentary digital collage techniques. These have included the transcript of a tale of inter-dimensional travel by a novice magician, set down in a tape recording, and the work of an artist working in the 1980s, which included a speculative coat of arms displaying the four crowns of Emperor Rudolf II: The Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia, Hungary-Croatia, and Philosophy, and my own take on the Temptation of St Anthony tradition.

For the fourth issue, I also decided to break away from the more abstract collage style for a more oblique form of digital weirdness. This includes the church at Kernspire, and the vision of Dietrich Belkenhurst, for my story Preservation. For this, I used two pictures from a recent trip to the South Downs with my co-author on Praeterlimina: Sean. For the first, I overlaid a heavily shadowed picture of the Church of St Lawrence in Telscombe with a screen grab of static, in an attempt to create the menacing suggestion of Stone Tape inspired techno-occultism. I then also employed the much mutilated image of some pond scum to achieve the feel of an hallucinatory episode in the Scottish border country, the unsettling vastness of the Downs providing some terrific expanses of sky to work with.

The Pastoral Noir

Around the time I was making preparations for the fourth issue, my partner and I took a trip to the Parasol Unit Foundation, where they were holding an exhibition entitled Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography. Although far beyond the scope of my own limited photographic skills, I was impressed by the use of subtler forms of manipulation to accentuate the uncanny potential for a range of settings and subjects. In time, this inspired my most recent foray into the field.

The original picture (below) was taken on a recent trip to visit family in Leicestershire. Like my trip to Telscombe a few months earlier, this was taken during the onset of dusk. The low evening light, combined with the similarly flat topography, caused the ground to be lighter than the sky, picking out the colours and shapes in vivid detail. The long shadows cast on the ground also lent an ominous quality to the scene, reminiscent of the brooding stillness of a David Inshaw painting.

Once I'd selected my picture, the process was a relatively simple one - I greyscaled the image, then strategically ramped up the brightness on the distant hillside, giving the impression of a depth of field not present in the original image. At the same time, I lowered the brightness of the sky above, giving the cloud formations overhead an impressive weight, forming dreamlike evocations of old Hollywood, appealing no end to my existing love of the pastoral noir. I felt sufficiently pleased with this piece to give it a name, which I borrowed from a tale by M.R. James. I call it, A View from a Hill.